A middle finger salute to the worst intersections | Bleader

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A middle finger salute to the worst intersections

Posted By on 06.28.12 at 06:15 AM

The part of Chicago with palm trees
  • Mike Gonzalez
  • The part of Chicago with palm trees
I don't have a car. I don't have a car because I totaled it. I don't have a car because I totaled it at one of the 20 worst intersections based on the number of crashes in 2010, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. I know this because Tina Sfondeles, a transportation reporter for the Sun-Times, wrote a post a couple months back detailing the Chicago area's most dangerous intersections, and I was strangely satisfied to find that the intersection at Kedzie and Belmont made the list. Actually, I almost feel vindicated to see it on the list. Whether it's right or wrong, I don't care, I'm still going to deflect some of the blame for my wreck onto that lousy intersection. And no, I wasn't on my cell phone.

Not only are the traffic lights at the intersection peculiarly placed underneath the 90/94 overpass to the point where they're practically shielded from motorists, but the crux of the intersection sits directly beneath the Kennedy, making it both dark and unnerving—like you're driving through a dank, pillared cave of concrete. I was heading south on Kedzie toward Belmont on a frigid day early last year when I flat-out missed the light turning red, and another car heading east hit the green light perfectly. My car got T-boned and was instantly rendered useless forever. No one was injured, but I haven't owned a car since—partly because of monetary reasons and partly because driving around Chicago is mostly a nightmare.

There were 47 crashes at the Kedzie and Belmont intersection in 2010, making it tied for sixth among the six-county region's most perilous intersections. The far-and-away winner is where Stony Island meets 79th and South Chicago, causing 63 crashes and forming what Sfondeles describes as a "huge, hectic intersection with the ramps of the Chicago Skyway overhead." Crossed by 70,000 cars and trucks a day, the intersection only leaves about 11 seconds for cars heading south on South Chicago to cross Stony Island before the light turns red. Other intersections within the Chicago city limits that made the list include Western at Peterson (47) and Roosevelt at Canal (43).

As for the nonmotorized two-wheelers trolling the city streets, Steven Vance of Grid Chicago detailed last November what he believes to be the worst intersections for cyclists. I support his call out of the intersection where Elston meets Armitage and Ashland—Vance correctly notes "drivers going northbound on Elston often turn right onto Ashland at high speeds across the path of a bicyclist"—but I'd also like to add the intersection where Elston meets Damen and Fullerton and the intersection of Milwaukee and Honore. The first is a traffic nightmare with cars often having to pass through two separate lights, which results in overly assertive drivers blocking the paths of bikers—I've never seen motorists more angry and impatient at an intersection in the city. (Thankfully the Chicago Department of Transportation is working to redesign the intersection.) The second is my own personal hell in Wicker Park, where I've gotten in two separate accidents, first fracturing a kneecap and later my wrist.

Fortunately, the slow installment of red-light cameras throughout the city has decreased the number of accidents by decreasing the number of drivers apt to give it gas when they see the light turn yellow. And I've been noticing the recent improvement of crosswalk signs by adding a countdown feature that alerts pedestrians how long they have to cross the street before the traffic light turns—cyclists use these constantly as a gauge for whether or not it's plausible they can make it through a light, and I'd like to think drivers are more prone to slow down as the seconds count down.

But when it comes down to it, Chicago can be an intimidating city to navigate. It's at least a little terrifying to be riding in a bike lane alongside a semitruck that could easily squash you flat, or to be a driver headed toward an intersection without an immediately visible traffic light. So maybe the best thing you can do is be keenly aware of the city's worst intersections and venture through them carefully.

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